May 1st 2016 will forever be known to me as the day my professional life officially changed. I went from the guy with almost 10 years’ experience working in various capacities for some of the biggest, and powerful companies in the world, to forming a Start-up with two of my friends, aimed at tackling the issue of Access to Quality Education in Africa due to lack of funds and capacity, which happens to be Number 4 on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Personally, I had no set expectation on what the experience would be like, but I was sure of ONE thing:
the road to success will be tough, but we will ultimately build a strong and viable business.
And yes, the journey has been indeed rough! Though very rewarding as far as building a viable business goes, I’d like to think we are on the right path with some well documented traction. Only just recently, ScholarX was nominated in the Best App category in the West Africa Mobile Awards (WAMAS), launched in Ghana and, has begun generating some revenue. Through this whole experience, I have been well exposed to the Start-up “game”; yes, it is a game, and I believe there are no losers, only that outcomes and expectations may be different than forecasted. However, the experience and network gained is of utmost value in helping shape one’s entrepreneurial trajectory – at least this is my perspective as a start-up founder – an Angel Investor/Venture Capitalist will most likely have a different opinion. They are in the business of putting in X amount of money in a start-up, and expect at least a 10X return.
What I’d like to do to conclude my thoughts on the journey so far; is to share a few insights on what the Start-up “Hustle” is, and is not.
The Hustle is…
- More Work! Indeed, running a start-up will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you’ve resolved an issue, the next one pops up. Thus, you must be mentally prepared to handle a multitude of tasks at the same time, at least till you move past the growth stage when you can now afford to expand your team.
- Not a Get Rich Quick Scheme! This is particularly true when your idea/solution requires a lot of upfront cost to help build to scale. You must be patient and aggressive at the same time, believe me there is a balance. I have seen some founders who go in expecting to “blow” real fast, then life hits them fast. This is not to say there aren’t some who have been relatively successful quickly, but it takes a great deal of time and effort just to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and then much more effort is required to put a growth/marketing strategy and infrastructure in place to scale the MVP.
- High Energy! I equate it to a NASCAR race, you must be extremely focused and ready to navigate through a high-speed race. One wrong turn, one bad move, can end the whole thing. Subsequently, you can go from zero to 100 in a very short period. The key is to always focus on the end-game. Whatever that is, typically based on already established goals.
- Not a Charity! Nothing is FREE. Everyone within the Ecosystem is trying to create some sort of leverage for themselves. I quickly developed this mindset, and so my decision-making process typically involves; what the person on the other side may be thinking or rather what they value.
- About Building a Network/Movement! This is so vital that I don’t think a start-up can survive without forming key alliances/partnerships and building a strong network. The grind is too intense to try to do it all by yourself. Like they say, work smart not hard. And if you’re still bootstrapping, where you’re managing limited resources, you will be best served to leverage on relationships to get things done.
What all of these point to is the fact that owning a startup is no child’s play and it requires a lot of gumption and critical thinking. So, to the existing startup owner out there, you are a hero! Courageous and made of star stuff and to the potential ones, welcome, pull up your sleeves, there’s work to be done!